Dr. Maureet Be'eri, ALYN

A world renowned physicist, a brilliant bio-tech founder, and a celebrated science biographer walk into a Hillel house… and raise the bar.

The recent TEDx ‘Talpiot’ event in Jerusalem (read more about the TED organization here and TEDx events here), in a word, made me feel late.

Actually, I got there on the early side, in time to watch the promising young faces file in to the Hillel house at Hebrew U in Jerusalem. Participants were mostly students and graduate students, with a bunch of professionals in various fields thrown in, I believe, to make me feel less old.

By late, I mean to the Do Something Huge for Humanity Party that so few get to attend, although said party is admittedly governed largely by self-invitation. Each lecture – which, in the tradition of TED events, was about 18 minutes long – drove home the point that Truly Excellent Developments (not really what TED stands for, at least not till now) are taking place all around us, mostly by people who had made up their minds to make them happen in their early twenties, if not before. The event’s hardworking and visionary organizer, Yoni Litt, is himself a graduate student at HU.

Which brings me to a brief digression on the sponsors.

ROI, an organization dedicated to Jewish leadership initiatives, innovation, and creativity, and Leadel net, a media hub for same (along with the JCYA and Hillel) definitely raise the bar on what Jewish inspiration means, as TED does for inspiration in general. TED, whose mandate is “Ideas worth spreading” in technology, entertainment, and design, hosts lectures by luminaries from around the world – unveiling ideas to a global audience of millions who watch online (…like TEDx Talpiot, only a lucky few get to attend in person.) The x is for independently organized international events, featuring local brilliance and usually adopting the flavor of the host country.

In all cases, but perhaps most palpably in the x lectures, we are talking about celebrating start-up people, devouring their passion for their respective missions, and inspiring a new generation hungry to make their own ideas happen… perhaps even over coffee during the break, in the case at hand. At least half of the Jerusalem TEDx speakers use their ingenious ideas and entrepreneurial spirit to contribute to humanity in ways that can easily be defined as good ol’ good deeds….hesed.

Prof. Zvia Agur is a Brussels-trained mathematician who has pioneered the field of biomathematics and developed a virtual patient model to aid in the optimization of chemotherapy. Based on a mathematical model of an organism’s reproductive pattern in nature during crisis, Agur hypothesized that both cancer cells and healthy cells, faced with chemo, might act like those animals. She founded a bio-tech start-up, Optimata, to develop patient-personalized cancer treatments based on this model.

Dr. Maurit Be’eri, Director of the Alyn Pediatric and Adolescent Rehabilitation Hospital, is an activist for early intervention in pediatric development; Eti Katz is an artist and education pioneer, translating the world and its words and numbers into visual symbols for kids who learn differently. Both dream of a world that is more easily navigated by an ever-expanding population of kids who defy conventional development, and are realizing those dreams, on the ground, every day.

Avshalom Elitzur is a quantum physics rock star, and to be honest, I understood only his jokes (most of them); if the professor ever runs out of time and space to collapse, he can move on to stand up. Joseph Dadon is a video artist / architect – he filmed Ronit Alkabetz as “Zion,” flitting through the various exhibit areas of the Louvre with a Bible to denote that book’s place at the epicenter of Western culture – who made me LOL with his observation that, “The French Revolution opened the chakras of Europe.” Both of these men made it clear that humanity and genius were completely compatible in advancing each.

My favorite lecture, though, was the one which seemed to be exploring why we were all sitting there in the first place; noted biology historian and Bar Ilan University Science, Technology, and Society Department Chair, Prof. Oren Harman spoke about the origins of altruism. Why do members of a species take of their own precious resources to advance causes that may not necessarily advance them individually? Isn’t this decidedly UN-Darwinian?

This was not only the topic of his latest book on oddball ground-breaking biologist George Price, but perhaps the meta-topic of the entire evening, and its sponsors, and maybe even of TED, of the internet’s lectures and its millions of free how-to videos, and of much of Israeli enterprise in general.

For that matter, why do so many want to attend this global Do Something Huge for the World Party that the organizers at every international TED and TEDx event, this one included, have to turn people away? And what will people DO with that instinct?

As artistic, scientific and business entrepreneurship and human / social entrepreneurship grow ever more enmeshed, that is THE question of our age. However old we are.

About the author